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IS MY BEER KOSHER? A LOOK AT PURITY LAWS

December 12, 2020  |  By Todd Summers

One of my favorite words in the beer language is ‘Reinheitsgebot’ — the word for the most famous of the German Beer Purity Laws, enacted in 1516. The law stated that beer can only contain 3 things: water, barley, and hops (1516 was way too early for Germans to know that yeast was a key ingredient in beer, thank you, Louis Pasteur!).

What does this sneeze-sounding word have to do with Kosher beer?

Well if you dig into the recesses of your Hebrew school memory, you’ll remember that keeping Kosher refers to consuming foods that are fit for consumption according to Jewish law.   The good news: water, barley, and hops are considered Pareve, which means they contain no dairy or meat and are fit for consumption according to Jewish law! 

Before I continue, I’d like to make it clear, I’m by no means a rabbi, and if you have any concerns on whether a specific beer is safe to consume please consult your rabbi. If you’re more religious and are looking for certification from Rabbinical groups that certify food and beverages, there are certainly options.! Star-K, one of the largest kosher certification groups in the country also certifies breweries!  There are only a handful of craft breweries that get this certification. It is a relatively expensive process for breweries to undergo, but some do.  Notably: Leicham Brewing, Southern Tier IPA, and He’Brew beers by Schmaltz Brewing and Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

As the beer-making process has evolved, so have the ingredients. One of my favorite beers is Switchback Brewing’s Smoked Oyster Stout, which is stout brewed with fresh oysters with real wood-smoked barley.  Beyond the fact that I’m allergic to oysters, oysters are most certainly NOT kosher, so, no oyster stouts if you want to keep kosher. The best practice for those looking to adhere to Kosher-like rules is to ask the brewers about the ingredients that were used in the brewing process.  These days, many breweries are including lactose, gelatine, fish Isinglass (a clarifying agent derived from fish bladders), goat brains, and different fruits. We are not following German beer purity laws too closely in 2020!

In sum, most beer is technically kosher, even if it hasn’t been officially certified. If you are trying to play it safe, a good rule of thumb is to look for german lagers.  If these beers are brewed to the style, you are good to go! A lot to say that we’ll be there at your next Purim party with a 4-pack and a freshly baked challah.

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